True Cost of an Eye Injury

True cost of an eye injurySafety eyewear: It pays to protect workers up front

There is no debate that our eyesight is invaluable: vision is a primary way humans experience the world, and without it, many jobs would prove impossible. The government has recognized the value of sight by passing legislation for workplace eye safety, and employers institute safety measures of their own to protect workers’ vision. While these combined efforts have had a positive impact on reducing workplace eye injuries, the statistics prove there is still much room for improvement.

According to Prevent Blindness America, workers experience more than 700,000 eye injuries per year, 36,000 of which require time off from work. Perhaps most surprising, though, is that 90 percent of those injuries are preventable by wearing the proper safety eyewear. That means that every day of the week an average of nearly 90 workers experience a serious — yet preventable — eye injury that requires time off.

The cost of an eye injury is immeasurable to a worker who partially or completely loses his or her sight and includes a diminished quality of life, lost wages and medical expenses. What may not be as obvious, though, are the staggering costs a company pays as a result of eye injuries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that workplace eye injuries cost employers more than $934 million in direct and indirect costs each year. By understanding the full scope of such expenses to a company, employers can more clearly see how a relatively small investment in high-performing eye protection can equal significant savings to their bottom lines.

Eye injury-related costs to a company are complex and vary greatly depending upon the individual incident. In basic terms, though, they can be broken down into direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include workers’ compensation and insurance premium increases, emergency response and medical treatment costs, equipment repair and legal fees. Companies spend more than $467 million per year in direct eye injury costs alone according to the BLS. It is important to remember that workers’ compensation rates are based on a firm’s individual safety record and premiums are based on the number of injuries regardless of severity. Companies rated high-risk based on prior incidents can pay several hundred times that of low-risk rated companies, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Regulatory fines are another direct cost associated with eye injuries. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties are wide ranging and are calculated, in part, based on incident severity and whether or not the incident is deemed a willful or repeat violation. Companies are required by law to comply with the industry standards for eye safety set by OSHA and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Those found in violation of the requirements – nearly 50 percent of all employers – may be assessed a civil penalty ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 for each violation.

Indirect costs related to eye injuries include lost production, reduced worker morale, reduced company competitiveness, employee re-training and replacement employee hiring and training, damaged goods and administrative support. The median number of days away from work for cases involving an eye injury is two days according to the BLS. Costs relating to lost time not only account for the affected worker but also those who become involved in assisting after the accident and those responsible for investigating, reporting and processing paperwork related to it. Lost time also encompasses production support, including time related to rescheduling and retraining employees who will assume the injured worker’s workload as well as hiring and training a replacement employee.

Reputation is another indirect cost that is difficult to calculate yet impactful to a company’s bottom line. Companies that have poor safety records may damage their reputation in the industry, hindering hiring and new business efforts, and ultimately their ability to compete in the marketplace. In contrast, successful safety programs may be viewed by those interested in a company’s practices, including employees, customers, competitors, regulators, investors, government and the media, as evidence of superior management and corporate responsibility.

When it comes to eye safety, paying the small price for preventative measures can save a company from these substantial, unplanned and usually preventable costs. In fact, statistics from injury and illness reports filed with OSHA show that companies that establish safety and health management systems can expect reductions in injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent and see a return of $4 to $6 for every $1 invested. Consider the following hypothetical example provided by the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA). In this case, an eye injury that cost the company nearly a million dollars could have been prevented with a $5 pair of safety spectacles or a $10 pair of goggles.

Direct cost of eye injury $10,000
Indirect costs of eye injury (three times direct) +  $30,000
Total nominal cost of eye injury (direct and indirect) $40,000
Profit margin on job where injury occurred /   5% (0.05)
Added revenue the company must generate to recover injury cost (C/D) $800,000

Or, consider this scenario: At a light manufacturing company with 50 employees, a forklift operator is not wearing protective eyewear. He bumps into an overhead pallet causing objects to fall and scratch his eye, and while his vision is obstructed the forklift causes damage to the surrounding pallet shelving equipment. Costs relating to such an accident could range between $5,000 and tens of thousands of dollars. In contrast, the cost to purchase protective eyewear for the entire staff would average approximately $310. Had the injury been prevented by properly protecting the worker’s eyes up front, the cost of that single injury would have paid for more than 16 years’ worth of protective eyewear for the company.

Once an employer considers the cost to properly protect its workers’ eyes versus paying for a workplace eye injury, the decision to purchase high-performing safety eyewear becomes an easy one to make. While it may be difficult to calculate all the direct and indirect costs of workplace eye injuries before they happen, with this basic understanding a company can easily see it will save immensely by avoiding such injuries. Employers that protect their workers’ vision through safety programs and a true safety culture will benefit from greater productivity and significant savings to their bottom lines.

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